by Gerardo Arias Camacho, Translated and retold by Marika Escaravage
You might know where your coffee comes from, but how well do you know the people behind each bean? Gerardo Arias Camacho is one of those people. A coffee farmer with COOPELLANOBONITO in Costa Rica, he’s seen first hand the real impact that Fairtrade certified coffee sales have had on families and whole communities.
Photo: 8 year old Gerardo poses front and centre with his large family.
Gerardo was born in a coffee producing region of Costa Rica, the twelfth of thirteen children. Living in a modest house lent by a family friend, he would work mornings on a local coffee plantation in order to pay for his school supplies.
Photo: 15 year old Gerardo, family and friends posing in front of the house he grew up in.
In 1980, when coffee prices began to drop, Gerardo’s father could no longer afford to send his children to school. After only four years, Gerardo had to drop out to work on the coffee plantation full time. Fortunately, he had already learned to read and write, a luxury not afforded to his father.
He continued working with his father and brothers until the age of 18. As the price of coffee worsened with every year, they held on to the dream of buying a truck to carry their harvest to the processing facilities and to bring their ailing mother to her medical appointments. As it stood, she could only travel the long distance on horseback.
Photo: Gerardo’s mother cooking for her family
Gerardo felt, as many others did, that the only way to make enough money to adequately provide for his family was to immigrate illegally to the United States, a notoriously dangerous journey. So, at the age of 18 he left his home. He arrived in New Jersey penniless, various robbers and corrupt authorities having emptied his pockets along the way.
Photo: The coveted 4 x 4 Gerardo and his family dreamt of buying
But the American dream failed to materialize. After 10 years in the USA without a steady job, healthy living conditions and as much as a thermos to keep his lunch warm, he returned to Costa Rica and established himself as a coffee producer. He became actively involved in a local cooperative, eventually becoming its president.
He has witnessed first hand the difference that being involved in Fair Trade has made. Prior to their certification, the cooperative’s members could not even cover their cost of production, let alone put food on the table for their families. Now, by selling their coffee as Fairtrade certified, they not only receive a better price, but have also learned to grow their coffee in an environmentally-friendly way. On top of this, the Fairtrade premium has permitted them to develop educational programs, improve local infrastructure and create processing facilities for their coffee.
“I personally think that the Fair Trade model should be what regulates all international trade. That way, there wouldn’t be as much social injustice and mistreatment of those who produce the most precious treasures known to man: food and clothing. That’s why I thank all those who support Fair Trade. Because, if we’re paid decently for whatever we produce, there is no need for people like me to risk their lives crossing borders, and leave their loved ones behind for ten years while trying to scrounge up enough money to afford a standard of living and dignity befitting a human being.” -Gerardo Arias Camacho
A long, challenging journey led Gerardo to produce Fairtrade certified coffee. Are you taking steps towards a fairer world for all? Register them now!